Don Mclean, of Norway, shows his support at the State House in 2021 for a bill creating Pine Tree Power Co. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Mainers will decide whether to replace the state’s two largest electricity companies with a nonprofit utility overseen by elected officials, after a legislative committee on Thursday declined to take action on a controversial citizen initiative.

If approved by voters in November, a referendum would establish Pine Tree Power Co., which would buy out investor-owned Central Maine Power and Versant Power and then be responsible for electricity transmission and distribution across most of the state.

The Legislature is required to consider taking action on citizen initiatives before they can go to a public referendum. Speakers testified before the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee, and most urged legislators to send the bill to the ballot.

“We should give (Mainers) the opportunity to decide for themselves this November by voting today ought not to pass on this bill,” said Sen. Nicole Grohowski, D-Ellsworth.

The citizen initiative follows an attempt to create Pine Tree Power Co. in 2021, when the Democratic-led Legislature narrowly passed a bill that June, but Gov. Janet Mills vetoed it.

That’s when Our Power, the lead organizer of the initiative, entered the picture. Our Power originally launched its campaign in August 2021 and was trying to land the referendum question on the 2022 general election ballot. Three months before the initiative would have expired, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows verified last November that petitioners had collected enough signatures.


Following that verification, Our Power took Bellows to court over concerns about how the state originally worded the referendum question. Last month, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Our Power’s favor and Bellows released new wording of the question on Wednesday.

On November’s ballot, the referendum question will now ask voters: “Do you want to create a new power company governed by an elected board to acquire and operate existing for-profit electricity transmission and distribution facilities in Maine?”

Our Power and other supporters of Pine Tree Power believe that replacing CMP and Versant Power would improve service reliability, lower costs and better meet Maine’s climate goals. CMP and Versant distribute electricity but do no generate it.

“We are here today because we’ve seen time and time again the failures of the investor utility model,” Our Power Campaign Manager Al Cleveland said.

At the hearing, opponents of Pine Tree Power included legislators, residents from across the state, and workers in the electricity industry, as well as representatives from Versant Power, the Maine AFL-CIO and HospitalityMaine. Those groups believe the new utility could limit the rights of workers, increase costs for Maine taxpayers and consumers, and politicize the utility industry.

Former Rep. Betty Ann Frederic spoke on behalf of 81 other former legislators to oppose the bill.


“Our economy and our communities cannot sustain the financial and environmental cost that the unknown nature of this proposal will almost certainly bring forth,” she said. “Our current system for delivering electricity featuring a unique structure of private ownership and tight government oversight, fueled by a force that combines open shop and union entities is symbolic of Maine – a melting pot of different personalities and ideologies in pursuit of a common objective.”

Those in favor of the initiative believe it’s a necessary measure coming at a time when CMP and Versant Power are again asking the Public Utilities Commission for approval to hike their electricity rates. Versant Power is seeking a 31% increase in its distribution rates, while CMP is asking for three increases over the next three years, starting with $44 million in the first year, then $28 million and $24 million. CMP’s lawyers privately met with the PUC on Wednesday to find a compromise for its request.

“Making ends meet has been challenging and the rate hikes for necessary utilities are increasingly stressful. As the cost of living in Maine continues to go up, I wonder if this is a place where I can build my life as a creative, queer professional,” Portland resident Camille Howard said.

Legislators on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee did not ask questions during the hearing. The hearing was largely a formality, since legislators usually clear citizen initiatives for the ballot.

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